Friday, February 12, 2010

The Last Night of the Emily Rose - Part 2

The Last Night of the Emily Rose


For Rolf ~ Happy Christmas darling {}

by Ranger

It was near silent out of sight of the cottage. Woods and fields lined the canal for mile on mile, a ribbon of water that slipped hidden through the Northamptonshire farmland. The Emily Rose moved without a sound, picking up a steady speed as the horse found his pace, walking without guidance on the bank over a long-familiar path. The bright parts of his harness caught and flashed in what little moonlight came through the clouds.
Daniel walked slowly back along the gangplanks that ran over the side and top cloths, the tarpaulins that covered the barge's load. Tugging back one of the side cloths he found apple logs, tightly roped and stacked, and under the top cloths lay bales and bales of new cut holly.
"There's apples and cider in the hold." Jonah said from the tiller, watching him. "From the farm orchards. This is their big winter sale, London can't grow these things for themselves and they're wanted in the markets."
All kinds of goods travelled by canal. Coalboats by the score went through the lock, liquor from Birmingham breweries, goods from the steelworks, potteries and kilns, goods from the farms. Daniel took the last few steps to the cabin roof and perched there, leaning to see the horse walking peaceably onwards.
"Which market are we going to?"
"So you have got a voice?" Jonah said with a half smile. Daniel gave him a quick glance and felt his face grow infuriatingly hot despite the frost in the air. Jonah's tone was apologetic when he spoke again.
"Camden. The boats unload only yards from the market, and there'll be barrowmen there to take the loads all over London. Covent Garden market. Billingsgate. Portobello Road. Door to door at the big houses."

It sounded very different to Weedon market, which was the only one Daniel had seen.
"It was kind of your father to let you go." Jonah said at length when Daniel said nothing more. "Especially if that leaves him managing the lock alone."

There were several answers to make here, ranging from the non committal to the outright dangerous. It had been a long and difficult day, Daniel's temper was still simmering and he blurted out almost without thought.
"He's not my father."   
Jonah didn't ask; just looked, quietly interested. Well aware that he was likely to be ending Jonah's interest permanently, and some part of him angrily glad at the sabotage despite the pleasure of being here on this boat, Daniel bit savagely at a none too clean fingernail and went on blurting. Better by far to make a reason to hate Jonah Ballard than to face his disgust.
"He's my step father by marriage. My mother left us. Years ago."
"Where did she go?" Jonah asked, as though normal mothers did that on a daily basis. Daniel, somewhat taken by surprise, shrugged.
"No one knows. She left a note on the kitchen table to James, saying she was tired of the village and was moving on. I suppose she thought she didn't need a brat along with her."

"How old were you?"
"Seven." Daniel said shortly. He remembered very little, and James would not speak of her.
"What about your real father?" Jonah asked quietly. Daniel shrugged, still angry.
"Nobody knows."

By village standards that should have produced teeth sucking, and Daniel was ready to hear it – if Jonah Ballard was going to laugh or curl his lip then better he did it now while Daniel was too angry to be hurt by it and there was no risk of him starting to trust where he shouldn't. But Jonah only shifted the tiller, pulling the barge further out into the middle of the canal as they passed a moored and darkened barge against the bank.
"There's only me and my grandfather. My Mam and Dad were killed in an accident at the loading wharf at Braunston- my Dad was crushed by the load falling on the dockside and my Mam was knocked into the water. Drowned."
Such accidents happened: Daniel had heard of them. Boats overturned, loads often handled in the half light hours of the morning or evening slipped or were badly loaded, or collapsed from their stacks, and the cold, narrow depths of crowded canals were not easy to escape from. The village of Bugbrooke loomed out of the darkness beyond the water, the quay silent and deserted beside the big loading barns.
"I'm sorry." Daniel said at last, not knowing what else to say. Jonah gave him a quick smile in the lantern light at the stern of the boat.
"Ten year ago now."

Neither of them said anything more. Daniel leaned where he was on the cabin roof, his face freezing in the frosty fog rising from the canal but inwardly hot with confusion. He was sitting less than six feet away from Jonah Ballard, able to watch him without counting the seconds until he was out of sight again, able to drink in every movement of his hands, of his shaggy fair head above the big shoulders. And part of him was fiercely reminding the far less careful rest of him that he did not want Jonah to catch him staring like a dog without a master. Jonah clicked to the horse as Bugbrooke's dark houses and church steeple faded behind them into the dark, and gave Daniel a nod at the cabin.
"We've a clear run until we get to the lock at Rothersthorpe- put the kettle on the stove? There's tea in the packet in the cupboard, water in the can."
Daniel got up without a word and edged past him, which in the narrow confines of the boat meant getting all too close. Jonah simply put a hand to steady him, gripping his arm for support and expecting Daniel to simply push by directly against him – it was the only way for two men to pass on the foredeck but it left Daniel no less hot or covered with confusion. Jonah at the tiller on the foredeck stood directly between the two opened doors of the cabin. A short but steep set of steps led down into the tiny cabin itself, Daniel had caught many glimpses of the cabins of the boats through the locks but had never been down into one. It was dark and warm and smelled of carbolic soap and faintly of lavender, which Daniel traced to several bunches of the dried herb hung by the stove. A wooden platform bed covered with a quilt was at the rear of the cabin, the breadth of the boat which was not quite long enough for a man to lie down straight on. At right angles to that, against the inner wall of the boat was a wide wooden bench, and against the other wall of the boat, near to the steps, was the large, steepled stove, it's chimney pushing smoke up through a hole in the cabin roof into the night. It put out a steady and fierce heat which Daniel stood as close to as possible for a moment while he found the kettle and the large painted water can with the lid that stood on the floor near the steps. It took him a moment to find the cupboard, until he sat the handle of the door built into the cabin wall opposite the wooden bench. When he pulled it, instead of swinging open, it swung directly down in front of him, forming a table in front of the bench and revealing the shelves hidden behind the door. Every inch of space was preserved and important – the entire cabin could be crossed in eight steps. Daniel found the tea and dumped a handful of the dried leaves into the kettle, standing it on the stove, added coal to the stove fire from the filled scuttle, and took two battered but clean tin mugs from their hooks by the stove. The fog was getting thicker outside when he carried the two mugs up on deck. Jonah took his with a smile of thanks and steadied Daniel as he brushed past and once more settled out of the way on the cabin roof. On the tow path, without being told, the shire horse ambled up the bank to a bridge, walked over the bridge with the tow rope still stretched behind it, and paced on down the tow path now winding on the far side of the canal.
"Doesn't need telling to do anything, Jem." Jonah said as if Daniel had asked. "He's done this path for years, he knows all the crossovers, all the stops."

"Where will you rest him?" Daniel asked shortly over his mug. For the first time Jonah looked slightly worried.
"I don't know that I can. Seventy six miles we've got to go, that's just over thirty hours if we don't stop, which would take us to the market for dawn on Christmas Eve. If we miss the market loading then we won't sell the cargo."

It had been just past seven pm on the kitchen clock when Daniel had pulled on his jacket and followed Jonah out of the cottage. The fly boats, the boats that ran long distance with double crews, two sleeping and two working, changed horses at the depots along the canal and ran night and day. A single crew made it harder, and the Ballards would not have horses stationed along the way, they were dependent on the big, plodding shire on the bank.   
"The time was tight when we left." Jonah leaned on the tiller, blowing on his hands around the mug to thaw his fingers. "There was only the two of us to load and Grandad can't lift much. And we lost two more hours when he was hurt."

There was something in his tone that told Daniel how it must feel to move on and leave the old man in the dark with a strange family, injured and alone. He would have reassured Jonah that James Pytchley, while not a man of many words was kind enough and the old man would be well looked after, but he had no idea how to frame the statement and it went unsaid. In the distance the horse started to slow and the lantern at the foredeck of the boat picked out the painted white of a lock.
"Rothersthorpe." Jonah said, straightening up and finishing his tea. "I'll –"
But Daniel made the half step-half leap onto the bank and walked down onto the lock. The key was half hidden in the grass beside the lock, as all the keys were, and from long experience handling them was easy. Daniel opened the foregates, waited as Jonah guided the Emily Rose in and then closed them behind him, moving forward to wind up the lock on the front gates. A boat could go through a lock in four minutes in the hands of a man who knew what he was doing, so James Pytchley said, and Daniel had operated the locks before for boats for whom time was money. As the lock filled to capacity he hauled the gates open and as the Emily Rose began to glide out of the lock, he stowed the lock key back in the grass, jogged down the bank and stepped back onto the gunwale of the boat. If Jonah Ballard wanted speed, Jonah Ballard would have speed.
Down the bank, near the horse – almost too far in the distance to be completely sure – Daniel caught sight of a figure walking. Slight, slim in a hooded, dark grey cloak. As he watched, a face turned very briefly towards him and he saw a woman's face with dark hair, then she walked swiftly on and was lost into the shadows.
Gayton passed in the darkness. Coming out of the village they heard the church clock chiming nine.
"We're coming to the hardest part here," Jonah said apologetically as the village of Blisworth began to come in to sight. "The tunnel's here – near two miles long. I'll speak to the leggers but it'll take a while and then there's seven locks down to Stoke Bruerne."

"Will you pay leggers?" Daniel asked shortly. He had heard of the fit young men who served in the leggers huts at Stoke Bruerne and Blisworth, walking the boats through, but leggers needed paying. Jonah gave him a brief nod.
"Aye. We'll be legging her through ourselves in the other tunnels, but this one's too long – I've seen my Grandad and my Dad do it, and I've done it myself, but it's a long way unless you're used to it."

"I'm used to handling boats." Daniel said shortly. "We'll do it. Save the money."
"It's two mile." Jonah said, shaking his head. "Dangerous. And no rescue down there if you get too tired and can't-"

Daniel's already badly splintered temper fractured entirely – although afterwards he was never sure why. Without thinking he stood up on the cabin roof, voice raised and sharp.  "Damn you, do I LOOK like I'll tire out? Do I look like a girl? I'm as strong as you are Ballard, I'll leg as far as you can and further!"

For a moment after he stopped shouting there was a silence, only the shambling of the horse and Jonah's eyes on him from the tiller, and his expression was one that Daniel didn't understand. If he shouted at James Pytchley, James either carried on as though he was deaf – his most frequent defence against Daniel – or else he followed a sharp order with a swift cuff across Daniel's nearest ear. The fact that Daniel was entirely too old to have his ear clipped didn't impinge on either of them: he was too old to lose his temper too, or to be at home and in James Pytchley's view it was the only reasonable action left to take sometimes with his difficult step son. In Daniel's view it was at least an answer: something you didn't always get from James. Jonah just looked. And then nodded quietly at the cabin roof.
"You'd better untie the gang planks then, we'll be needing them."
The legging board lay across the roof, secured in place as the tunnel's dark mouth came into view. Jonah stepped ashore and went to the horse who had come to a halt by the tunnel, loosed the tow rope from its harness and gave it a gentle slap on the rump. The horse ambled on into the darkness by itself. Bringing the tow rope back with him, Jonah stepped aboard the Emily Rose and put a hand on her tiller, bringing her midline in to the mouth of the tunnel. Daniel didn't wait for him. Teeth tight, he climbed out along the plank laid horizontally on the roof and lay down on his back, gripping the plank with both hands and planting the soles of his boots firmly on the brick wall of the tunnel. He felt the shift and sway of the plank as Jonah did the same on the other end of the plank and heard the clatter of Jonah's boots hit the brick. And then bracing himself, Daniel pushed with the nearest foot and began as best he could to walk against the tunnel wall.
The fact that he had never done this before weighed heavily against him for the first few seconds: there was an awful straining moment when he pushed with all his weight and realised in horror that the boat was not moving. Then Jonah's voice reached him from a few feet away, calm and amused.
"Easy, it's always hard to get her started – once we do it'll go easier. Lay flat on your back and keep time with me. One. Hold it and brace. Emily, come on lass. One."

Daniel braced a foot against the wall and pushed with all his strength, and at last felt the movement of the Emily Rose as Jonah did the same on the other side of her. And then, with the grace of a lady, she consented to move and began to drift slowly forward into the black hole of the tunnel. One. Two. One. Two. Slowly, in time with Jonah's heavy boots, Daniel stepped and pushed and stepped and pushed. Not for nothing did James Pytchley refer to him as a great lump of a lad; years of operating the locks, moving the boats, working the small cottage land had given plenty of scope for an active boy and a strong, well muscled body that often was not given nearly enough to do. Daniel flung himself into battle with that endless wall as they moved through the dark, step by step, the Emily Rose gliding under them. One. Two. One. Two. In perfect time, like a dance. The Emily Rose's lanterns lit up the tunnel ahead, and soon there was nothing in sight in front or behind them, except the tunnel wall and the darkness. One. Two. One. Two. Legs and back aching, hands aching from gripping the board, sweat dripping into his eyes, Daniel revelled in the fight against the wall. Pushing, straining, defying, all of that was precisely what he wanted to do and the wall took the punishment in silence, letting Daniel batter himself against it. One. Two. One. Two. On and on without pause, through more darkness, more bricks, never ending tunnel. Somewhere during that grimly satisfying battle, Daniel twisted his head and saw flickers of candlelight against the red brick, coming from further ahead. Emily Rose sailed silently on through the black water and out of the gloom Daniel saw a fork off the tunnel emerge, lit with candle lanterns. He paused in the walking, surprised, and Jonah's hand came from the far side of the plank and gripped his shoulder. He sounded out of breath. 
"Not that way. Keep walking – straight on, we won't go down there."
Candles seemed to flicker inside the tunnel from some way off, and listening above the scrape of their boots on the wall Daniel could hear the far away chink chink chink of picks.
Step. Step. Step. Jonah's hand once more came back and gripped Daniel's shoulder, firmly, not painfully. A strong grasp that went through Daniel's frame like a bolt of lightening.
"Listen to me. The more you fight the slower we'll go, stop straining. Walk slowly and easily, lie back and let yourself move with her, and she'll just slip away underneath you."

The candlight illuminated the fork ahead and Daniel, twisting to look over his head, could see that Jonah had moved his feet up to walk almost against the tunnel ceiling to avoid it. Time was of the essence, his urgency was understandable. Taking a deep breath, Daniel once more began to walk, trying to relax his back, to lie back and unknot the muscles of his stomach.
"Easily." Jonah said again, very near him. "Just walk, move with her."

It took a moment to realise what Jonah meant. And then Daniel realised he could feel the Emily Rose beneath him. Not just the heard planks of her deck but the movement of her, the flow of her, the rock and glide she made in response to them. And when he felt her move in response to him, he knew how to gentle and lengthen his own movements. Not to batter against her – Jonah was right – but to glide with her, at her pace, easily, and in response he felt her pick up speed, slipping on through the tunnel. In a moment the candlelit fork was out of sight, the aching in Daniel's back and legs faded and he and Jonah seemed to be moving in a slow, easy rhythm together.
The tunnel appeared to go on forever. It was in fact almost an hour before they felt the first chill of fresh air coming towards them, and a moment later saw the gloom of the night appear at the end of the tunnel. Emily Rose lit the way with her lantern and they stepped on through the last few yards into the cold bite of the night wind and the silence of the fields by Stoke Bruerne. Daniel dropped his aching legs and for a moment lay there panting, hearing Jonah do the same thing. Then Jonah carefully sat up and came to offer Daniel a hand, pulling him to his feet.
"Take the tiller, I'll get Jem. Let's get out of here and down to the village, quick as we can."

He was certainly worrying about the time – possibly about a slow time through the tunnel with an amateur legging with him. Slightly ashamed of himself, as with one of the regular leggers Jonah might have covered the tunnel a good deal quicker, Daniel guided the Emily Rose to the bank and watched Jonah walk up the towpath to where the shire horse stood patiently waiting for them and cropping at the grass. Jonah fixed the towrope back to his harness and Daniel saw him spend a moment rubbing the big shire's ears between his hands, then adjust the blanket roped over the animal's back before he stepped back onto the boat.
"He's getting cold. We'll stop at Stoke Bruerne and feed him, put another blanket on him."
The horse stepped out into the darkness once more and the Emily Rose began to glide forward.
"Who was working in the tunnel?" Daniel asked gruffly to cover his own shame. Jonah didn't answer for a moment.
"Navvies." He said at last, as though it was an effort to speak calmly. "Digging the fork. Did you hear the picks?"
Daniel muttered something, horribly confirmed that Jonah was angry and frustrated at the loss of time. 
It was only a few minutes before the lights of Stoke Bruerne came into view and the canal widened out, lined at each side with barns and buildings, cottages and moored barges. An inn on the canal side was brightly lit and Christmas wreaths hung on the walls, in amongst the winter-flowerless rose branches. Jonah guided the Emily Rose to a vacant mooring space by the inn and Daniel leapt onto the bank, taking her snatcher rope to tie her safely. Jonah went down the path and took the horse's bridle, disconnecting the tow rope and leading the shire with him down the path by the inn to the stable yard beyond. With nothing else to do, Daniel dug his hands in his pockets and scuffed, bitter and angry with himself, along the small line of cottages beyond the inn. The toll weighing bridge lay between them and the next lock, and a group of men in scarves and the collars of their jackets turned up were weighing a coal barge bound north towards Birmingham .
"Are you with the Rose?" one of them called over. "Moving on tonight?"
"Yes – heading to London." Daniel called back over the water. The man waved at the waiting space behind the toll bridge.
"Bring her over then lad, quicker we get this done the quicker we get out of the bleedin' cold."
Manhandling a boat around a lock was something Daniel had been doing for years. He took the Emily Rose's snatcher rope from the dock, looped it over his shoulder and with a few minutes leaning and heaving, got her moving with him as he walked over the narrow lock bridge and into the weighing bay. One of the men there came to help him slow her momentum and she waited graciously outside the bridge as the coal barge began to sail away northward. It took a moment to draw her onto the bridge, and then for the lock to be operated to release the water from the lock so that the Emily Rose sat on the weighing bridge itself. Daniel waited, stamping his feet to keep them from going entirely numb in the cold. Jonah reappeared on the far side of the lock outside the inn, looked around for Daniel, and then walked over the lock bridge to join him, pushing his cap back on his head  as he saw the Emily Rose being weighed.
"Well you know what you're doing with a boat, I'll give you that. This'll save us time and no mistake."
"In a hurry?" one of the men asked. Jonah grimaced.
"We're taking this lot down to Camden, in time for the last market."

The 'we' was comforting, and Jonah said it naturally as though it was something they were doing together instead of something he was doing with a muddle of help and hindrance.  The man at the weighing scale called a figure and Jonah went to pay him, shaking a small handful of coins from his pocket.
"They're feeding the horse." He said to Daniel as the lock was refilled to float the Emily Rose once more. "Managed to find someone who'd sell bran and he's eating that hot. We'll get something to eat and start again in half an hour."
In the cabin below, once the Emily Rose was moored again at the quayside, Jonah pulled a loaf and cheese out of the cupboard and cut several large slices from each, putting a plate in front of Daniel. Daniel, who had missed dinner at the cottage through refusing to attend with Maria, and who had worked through lunchtime for much the same reason, found himself devouring the bread as though he was starving. Jonah didn't appear to be much better. They ate in silence – and to Daniel not a comfortable one. He might have made a slightly better impression on Jonah by dealing with the weighing, but the tunnel fiasco was a hot and shameful memory and sitting so close to Jonah- a very different Jonah in his shirtsleeves, his fair hair wild, his long fingers loose around the bread he held- it didn't help in any way. Daniel escaped up on deck as soon as he could and sat there while Jonah collected the horse, roped a second blanket over him and affixed the tow rope. There were seven locks to go through here – one after the other in a short space of time – and for the next hour Daniel operated the locks and Jonah steered the boat through, handling her expertly in the confined space. Daniel's hands rapidly went numb with cold and it was an effort turning the lock keys, the water seemed to grow icier and the night steadily darker until without the lanterns on Emily Rose's bow and stern it would have been impossible to see anything at all.
Somewhere between locks four and five Daniel caught a glimpse from the tow path again and realised it was the same woman – slight, in her full length dark grey cloak. Walking swiftly past she cast a look at Daniel and met his eyes for a moment, dark eyes and dark hair beneath the cloak hood – and then she disappeared into the darkness and out of sight.
At the seventh lock Jonah reached a hand to steady Daniel as he stepped back aboard and nodded at the cabin.
"You get down and warm yourself, you must be frozen and there's no more locks until Cosgrove-"

"I can stand the cold as well as you can and better." Daniel snapped back, pulling free and climbing once more onto the cabin roof. "So you think about that before you patronise me Jonah Ballard-"

He had been expecting – at worst- another of those peculiar looks. However this time Jonah moved extremely swiftly – too swiftly for Daniel to see what he did other than snatch something from the cabin and a moment later his hand closed on Daniel's ankle, yanking him swiftly across the slippery cabin roof and down onto the foredeck where he landed on his feet with a thud. And before he had his breath back, Jonah spun him around by the collar, pressed him down over the cabin roof and something landed soundly and squarely across the seat of Daniel's rather threadbare corduroy trousers with a loud and hearty 'thwack' sound that echoed over the water. Whatever it was it was large, and heavy and extremely hard, and it left a smart behind that added a great deal of fervency to the yell of shock Daniel let out. Acting entirely on instinct he struggled to stand up, to turn away as quickly as possible and cease providing a target and to get his hands over his backside in protection as much as to grab and squeeze at the appalling smart lit behind him, but Jonah's hand on his collar not only held him exactly where he was, squirming but going nowhere, he also pushed aside Daniel's frantic hands and another of those appalling whacks landed, just as squarely and just as accurately, and it was swiftly followed by yet another. Daniel, out of breath and horrified beyond coherency, yelled, stamped and twisted wildly under Jonah's hand and didn't succeed in moving an inch. Whatever Jonah held it covered almost his entire backside at each heavy, shockingly stinging swipe. One more sound whack landed, absolutely square on a backside frantically trying to get out of the way, and Daniel was aware of his voice getting steadily higher and hoarser in response, able to manage nothing more coherent than an extremely shocked "OW!"
And then Jonah turned him around, with one hand on his shoulder, and gave him that look that he'd seen earlier and still couldn't read, save that it was almost impossible to look away from.
"If you," he said extremely firmly, "carry on like a twelve year old in a paddy I'll give you just what's good for sulking and temper. There's no room for it on a boat this size and I won't stand more of it, is that clear?"
Tears in his eyes, near to hopping with the blazing smart behind him, Daniel threw the last of any caution to the wind and heard himself hissing like a stood on cat,
"I'll carry on any way I damned well please, and-"

His breath was knocked out by Jonah simply whirling him back around to face the cabin roof, and despite immediately squirming in panic and with all the strength he had, Daniel could do nothing whatever to ward off three more of those shockingly hard whacks across his behind, each one finding its target without difficulty however he twisted. Jonah was taller – and broader- and stronger, as Daniel discovered, his chest and shoulders pinned down over the cabin roof under Jonah's hand. He couldn't move. He could stamp, and swear, and do his best to twist away, but he couldn't move.
"Clear now?" Jonah asked behind him.
"NO." Daniel spat, struggling, and yelled at another sound swat. And this time Jonah didn't stop. With the calm regularity of a steam engine what-ever-it-was fell again and again in a steady, hard whack against the seat of Daniel's trousers, unsoftening, unceasing. At the sixth Daniel began to wonder in panic if Jonah ever intended to stop – entirely used to simply holding out against James Pytchley and anyone else who had ever objected to his temper, in the knowledge that sooner or later they all gave up, Daniel was beginning to have serious doubts about Jonah Ballard. He seemed quite prepared to go on all night, seemed to have no just sense that he ought to be softening those appalling blows instead of allowing every single one to be hard and not caring at all how they affected Daniel. And no matter how he fought and kicked he couldn't struggle out from under Jonah's hand. Absolute rage gave way to panic and to a level of smarting that couldn't be fought against any longer – Daniel found himself with tears streaming, gulping back sobs in a way he had not done since he was a very small child, and did something he had never once in his life done with James Pytchley.
"I'm sorry – Jonah I'm sorry! I won't – I won't I promise-"
To his deep relief Jonah's hand lifted from his collar and instead helped him stand. Dripping tears, out of breath and with far too much pressing in the way of distress and discomfort to think about being embarrassed, Daniel clutched his backside with both hands and faced the bigger, older man with a pressing need to make his sincerity as clear as possible if it prevented any more of those awful swats.  "I'll stop, I promise – I'm sorry -"

“There isn't room for temper on a boat." Jonah said firmly but not unkindly, standing exactly where he was less than a foot away which made it quite clear to Daniel as if he wasn't already sure that Jonah was larger than he was and if it came to a struggle Jonah was going to win. "And a grown man doesn't sulk and snarl like a bad tempered dog. You tell me what's fretting you because it's plain something is."

Daniel took a breath, by sheer force of habit about to deny it. Except his eyes were still streaming and his backside hurt despite his clutching at it, and right now he didn't feel inclined to try refusing Jonah Ballard anything at all. Instead he gulped and his voice started without his permission, sounding somewhat higher and softer than he was used to.
"I had a fight with James' sister this morning – I was angry since then, I'm sorry – and I'm sorry about the tunnel-"

"The tunnel?" Jonah sounded startled by that. He leaned past Daniel to put something in the cabin and Daniel saw it in his hand – the tidy betty. The solid wooden slat used to stand the hot kettle on the cabin floor without leaving burn marks.
"I lost time," Daniel said unsteadily. "If you'd had a legger you'd have done it faster."

"We wouldn't," Jonah said, puzzled. "We did it in under an hour – that's good time, you're as strong as I am."

Daniel looked up, too surprised not to although the cold wind stung against wet eyes and cheeks.  "But you were furious when we came out of the tunnel – you'd hardly speak to me."

Jonah looked at him for a moment with an odd expression, then put a hand on Daniel's shoulder and moved back to take the tiller, leaving Daniel the warm space of the cabin stairs by the stove where they were face to face.
"No, I wasn't angry with you. Scared, but not angry. You know where we saw the fork in the tunnel?"
"Yes, where the navvies were," Daniel said, trying to stop gulping and tenderly rubbing at his backside. The blazing smart was beginning gradually to fade to warmth enough to fry eggs on.
Jonah gave him a wry look, steering the Emily Rose back towards the middle of the canal.
"There's no fork there."

"There was, I saw it-" Daniel protested.
Jonah shook his head.
"No. I've heard of it – I've never seen it before although my Grandad has. When Blisworth tunnel was being built there was a cave in- fourteen navvies died under the rock and earth and the fall was so big that they left that part of the tunnel sealed and carried on tunnelling in a different direction. There's no fork there. What we saw and heard tonight were those fourteen navvies, still down there digging."
Daniel blinked, with a powerful memory of that open tunnel mouth, the candle lanterns and the sound of picks. Jonah shuddered at the tiller, a brief shake of his large shoulders and wild fair head.
"I've never seen that before and I never want to again. It was all I could do not to panic. I wasn't angry with you. I didn't want to scare you too."
"You should have told me," Daniel said somewhat to his surprise. He never usually said things like that. But Jonah sighed and nodded.
"Aye, I should. Put the kettle on Dan, lets keep the tea going or we'll freeze out here. Bring up some mugs and tell me about your step-dad's sister." 

Copyright Ranger 2010

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